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Wednesday, January 2, 2013Lewis among top five defenders ever
The Baltimore Ravens are losing more than leadership after the season with the retirement of Ray Lewis.
They are losing one of the five best defensive players I have had the fortune to cover. As you might know, I started covering the NFL in 1972. Because of that, I was able to catch the end of Dick Butkus' career. He retired in 1973, and I marveled at how he roamed the field and made violent tackles.
Every time I watched Lewis, he reminded me of Butkus. Because Lewis was faster, maybe he should be ranked ahead of Butkus among the greatest defensive players ever, but out of respect to NFL history, I rank Butkus ahead of Lewis. Remember, I still go with Jim Brown as the best pure NFL football player I've ever seen.
So here are my top five defensive players:
Lewis smiled and noted that he was a wrestler in high school and much of that explosion came from his wrestling techniques. Could you imagine going against Lewis on a wrestling mat?
The 2000 Ravens defense was the third-best I've seen, ranking behind the 1970s Steelers' Steel Curtain and the 1985 Chicago Bears, and Lewis was the leader. What was amazing is how his presence has been able to help Baltimore maintain its defensive toughness for so long.
Lewis was Butkus-tough, but he was the perfect middle linebacker because of his range. When the Ravens eventually switched to a 3-4 defense, Lewis told me why their 3-4 was so different. Normally, 3-4 defensive coaches like bigger players. They like 260-pound outside linebackers who are tall. They like stout inside linebackers to stuff and run and ward off blockers.
The Ravens' 3-4 was always different because Lewis could run and tackle from sideline to sideline. He made sure the rest of the starting linebacker corps could also run, which allowed them to use lighter, more agile defenders.
One of the highlights of my tour of training camps this year was seeing Lewis at his lightest. To regain some of his speed and quickness, Lewis spent the offseason riding a bike. He rode as much as 80 miles a day.
It allowed him to come to camp more than 20 pounds lighter than the previous season.
Lewis will be missed next season, but I will be looking forward to the Pro Football Hall of Fame vote for him in five years. He will be inducted on the first ballot. He's earned it.